UK’S bat­tery fac­tory

A cut­ting-edge new bat­tery pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity is at the cen­tre of the UK govern­ment’s plans to en­sure Bri­tain is a key player in EV tech


£1bn fa­cil­ity set for Coven­try

The UK govern­ment is mak­ing rapid progress towards the open­ing of the coun­try’s first au­to­mo­tive fac­tory for elec­tric ve­hi­cle bat­ter­ies, with the £80 mil­lion Bat­tery In­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion Cen­tre (BIC) due to open in Coven­try in 2020.

The size of a medium-sized au­to­mo­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing fac­tory, the BIC will house cut­ting-edge re­search and devel­op­ment lab­o­ra­to­ries along with a pilot pro­duc­tion plant for EV bat­tery packs.

It is the cen­tre­piece of a £1bn public/pri­vate in­vest­ment in en­ergy-sav­ing au­to­mo­tive tech­nol­ogy, which is be­ing chan­nelled through the Ad­vanced Propul­sion Cen­tre (APC) at Warwick Univer­sity.

“There is a real op­por­tu­nity for the UK to grab a slice of the [bat­tery] de­mand that Europe will need in the next few decades,” said Garry Wil­son, the APC’S busi­ness devel­op­ment di­rec­tor.


The UK is al­ready well-placed for the rise in EV tech­nol­ogy with sev­eral spe­cial­ist bat­tery re­search and pro­duc­tion sites (see map, right) but the next step needs to be a high­ca­pac­ity man­u­fac­tur­ing plant. Europe is fore­casted to need 16GW of bat­tery man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­ity over the next decade as elec­tri­fied ve­hi­cles make up an ever-greater pro­por­tion of new car sales.

Au­to­car es­ti­mates sug­gest that UK de­mand might be for 1.5 to 2GW — around 10% of the Euro­pean to­tal. In­dus­try fore­casts sug­gest a busi­ness boost to the UK car in­dus­try of po­ten­tially £5bn to £50bn, so the stakes are high.

“The big ques­tion for the UK is ‘do we want to be part of this and build a sup­ply chain and new man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs here?’. If yes, the BIC is a key step on that road,” said David Bai­ley, pro­fes­sor of in­dus­trial strat­egy at As­ton Busi­ness School.

The BIC was an­nounced in Novem­ber last year and equip­ment is cur­rently be­ing sought to kit out the fa­cil­ity ahead of the planned open­ing. New ex­per­tise de­vel­oped at the BIC is be­ing touted as a ma­jor at­trac­tion to a top cell chem­istry man­u­fac­turer to setup a UK man­u­fac­tur­ing plant.


There are two main ar­eas of bat­tery man­u­fac­tur­ing: chem­istry and bat­tery packs.

The chem­istry as­pects in­clude the lithium ion tech­nol­ogy de­ployed in­side the com­pact cells that make-up an elec­tric ve­hi­cle bat­tery pack and is largely con­trolled by Chi­nese, South Korean and Ja­panese man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Pana­sonic, LG Chem, Sam­sung and BYD.

A bat­tery pack in­te­grates hun­dreds of these cells into a sin­gle unit, com­plete with con­trol wiring and cool­ing. Nis­san, for ex­am­ple, has a fa­cil­ity at its Sun­der­land plant that can build 60,000 packs a year for the Leaf us­ing pouch cells sup­plied by NEC, through a joint-ven­ture called AESC.

Nis­san’s cur­rent out­put amounts to 2.4MW of bat­tery man­u­fac­ture – just 0.15% of the 16GW de­mand forecast for the Euro­pean mar­ket, giv­ing con­text to the scale of growth pos­si­ble in the UK.

The govern­ment's strat­egy is to tar­get cell man­u­fac­ture and bat­tery pack in­te­gra­tion, and both will be a fo­cus for the BIC. Of­fi­cials from the APC have just been on a trade mis­sion to Ja­pan hoping to en­cour­age one of the coun­try's big man­u­fac­tur­ers to set up a plant in the UK.

The re­cent ap­point­ment of Jeff Pratt, who for­merly ran Nis­san’s lithium ion plant in Sun­der­land, as the BIC’S man­ag­ing di­rec­tor gives the project a strong boost.

But the chal­lenge fac­ing the UK is whether it can at­tract ex­ist­ing chem­istry man­u­fac­tur­ers — at­tracted by the pos­si­bil­ity of sup­ply­ing Uk-based OEMS — given that the UK is a rel­a­tively high-cost man­u­fac­tur­ing coun­try.

Some in­dus­try ex­perts be­lieve that cell man­u­fac­ture is best sited in coun­tries where man­u­fac­tur­ing costs are sub­stan­tially lower than in the UK, such as those in East­ern Europe and Asia.


Bat­tery cell tech­nol­ogy is in its in­fancy, and a key el­e­ment of the BIC project is to sup­port the devel­op­ment of new cell chemistries and solid state bat­ter­ies, with a view to put the UK at the fore­front of bat­tery elec­tric ve­hi­cle tech­nolo­gies.

Uni­ver­si­ties in­clud­ing Ox­ford, Cam­bridge and Warwick have re­ceived fund­ing from the APC to work on de­vel­op­ing break­through bat­tery chemistries. Own­ing that tech­nol­ogy in the UK will in­crease the chance of UK man­u­fac­ture, even if man­u­fac­tur­ing li­cences are sold to overseas com­pa­nies.

Bat­tery pack man­u­fac­ture has a clearer fu­ture in the UK – it is a more com­plex as­sem­bly oper­a­tion that is better suited to the UK’S ex­pe­ri­ence and is also best car­ried out close to final car as­sem­bly plants.

The man­u­fac­tur­ing process in­volves com­plex wiring be­tween cells in the pack, cir­cuitry for tem­per­a­ture and charge con­trol and in­te­grated water-cool­ing sys­tems. The BIC is also de­signed to pioneer new man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques for packs, which will be tested on its pilot plant.


So far, the UK in­dus­try has a patchy record on OEM bat­tery pack as­sem­bly, de­spite a head­start with the Nis­san plant. The bat­ter­ies for both the Mini-e and Jaguar I-pace are built overseas, al­though the com­plete Mini-e will be made at BMW’S Plant Ox­ford. I-pace as­sem­bly is con­tracted out to Magna Steyr in Aus­tria.

Com­pe­ti­tion for these plants will be fierce. Audi, for ex­am­ple, has re­con­fig­ured its plant in Bel­gium for the new e-tron SUV, where it is also con­cen­trat­ing bat­tery pack man­u­fac­ture, us­ing cells sup­plied by LG Chem and Sam­sung from fac­to­ries in east­ern Europe.

A big op­por­tu­nity for the UK will come from As­ton Martin’s new fac­tory in St Athan, South Wales, es­tab­lished to build elec­tri­cally-pow­ered As­tons, with out­put start­ing in 2020.

Mini-e will be built in Ox­ford, but bat­ter­ies are pro­duced overseas

As­ton's St Athan plant, due to open in 2020, will pro­duce EVS

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